Information for the voter, prkl

Argument package

Free education is supported widely in society. Members of Finnish political parties and the decision-makers of municipalities are all in favour[1] of free education, and the Finnish voters agree. It is unlikely that the profits from tuition fees would benefit the higher education institutions directly as scholarship systems are expensive. The tuition fees which have been brought in for non-EU and non-EEA students have not brought any profits for the majority of higher education institutions.

A second degree of the same level should also be free to the student as introducing tuition fees would make it harder to retrain. In regulated professions, like in the social and health care field and the building trade, having a degree is a necessity. Updating one’s knowledge and skills should be possible for everyone regardless of life stage or income level. The Constitution of Finland (Section 18) states that everyone has the right to education which promotes employment. Investments in more flexible continuous learning are required, where people can update their skills through module-based studies instead of having to complete a degree. When those who want to update their skills are studying modules instead of degrees, the demand for a second degree will come from those who specifically need another degree. If fees are introduced for a second degree, then the responsibility and risks are placed on the individual, even though society also benefits from retraining.

[1] The Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers and the Finnish Union of University Professors (2018).

Education should be seen as an investment which is worth spending money on. Reintroducing the higher education index would be a return to the normal state of things. Without the index, the funding for higher education is constantly lagging behind as costs go up. The cost of an index increment would depend on the changes to costs, but e.g. a 2 per cent increase to the 2019 grant would mean an additional 15.5 million euros for universities of applied sciences and 31.2 million euros for universities. The Vision for Higher Education and Research includes a target of increasing the level of Finns who have completed higher education to 50 per cent. If we want even more people to graduate from a higher education institution, that will require additional resources. Unless the level of funding is increased, the skills level will not go up even if the number of available student places is increased. The quality of the degrees will suffer if the level of funding stagnates or goes down.

The costs of education, like other specialist fields, are heavily focused on the staff. The majority of the costs of higher education institutions are made up of employee costs, and cuts to funding translate directly into reductions in staff. Since 2012, the staff levels of universities of applied sciences have been reduced by 15 per cent, while the number of students has remained the same. Cuts to education and the resulting lack of resources have had a negative impact on the well-being of both staff and students. Some higher education institutions have already gone through several redundancy processes, which causes a huge amount of stress and insecurity among staff, which is also strongly reflected on the students. The cutbacks have reduced the numbers of administrative staff, which leads to administrative tasks piling up on the researchers and lecturers’ desks, which takes them away from their basic work.

At the same time, the students’ situation has also become worse. Many cuts have affected the student support and guidance services that are key if we want to increase the completion rate. Assessment has also become slower, the number of external speakers has gone down, and the students feel like it is easier to pass study units. Without sufficient support services it takes longer to graduate, and the number of mental health problems and cases of marginalisation increase.

The level of the study grant has been reduced and its criteria have been tightened during the past two terms of office. A hundred-euro increase would be a change for the better, and in future, the aim is to make sure that students are no longer the only population group in Finland who have to get into debt in order to cover their basic necessities. The study grant was reduced by 86 euros, and this increase would correct the students’ level of social security, which was already insufficient to start with. Increasing the study grant would direct the support to those with the lowest income. A student whose earnings are in line with the income limits of the financial aid for students can have around 1,500 euros to spend per month, while the level of benefits paid to a full-time student is no more than 250–670 euros without the student loan. Increasing the study grant would encourage students to study instead of working. Not everyone is able to work while studying. Additional work nearly always cuts into the time spent studying.

ncreasing the study grant by 100 euros would increase the costs of the financial aid for students by 155 million euros per year compared to the 2019 budget, which estimated the cost of the study grant for students in higher education to be 240 million euros. The estimates assume that the number of recipients of the financial aid for students will remain at the current level.

The general reform of the social security aims to create a basic security suited to the 21st century, so one cannot categorically exclude a population group of 300,000 people. The current student social security was created in the 1990s, but it has seen several changes since then, both at the expense of the study conditions and on the terms of savings to the public finances. The students’ social security has been reduced to a level that is not even sufficient to cover basic necessities. The social and health care expenditure is rising all while the retired segment of the population is increasing, which will push the focus of the public finances more and more towards the ageing population group. In order to leave the younger generation with something more than the bill for all this, the student social security must be increased to a sufficient level. This change can balance out the financial inequality between generations. Economic inequality can be seen in how the median salaries have changed in the 21st century. We are also looking at increased pensions’ contributions, and based on the latest population forecasts there will be even more pressure to increase them than expected.

The point of the student social security must be to enable and support students in full-time study so that their basic needs can be met without getting into debt. When examining this, we should not only take the students’ monthly expenditure into account, but also their income as a whole.

We have to react to climate change now so that we can manage to stop global warming at 1.5 degrees, as demanded by the IPCC’s climate report. If global warming exceeds this number, the effects on our environment will be catastrophic. The Government must take responsibility for encouraging individuals to act in a more environmentally friendly way, because changing the tax and subsidy systems will have a major impact on guiding the everyday activities of individuals.